Riot police used teargas to break up opposition supporters who planned to march through Mali’s capital to call for transparency in next month’s presidential election, witnesses and the authorities said.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita plans to run for re-election in the July 29 polls, despite criticism that he has not done enough to cut youth unemployment or end an Islamist insurgency and tit-for-tat ethnic killing in the north.
The authorities banned Saturday’s Bamako march, organised by a coalition of political parties opposing Keita.
Opposition supporters outside the headquarters of an opposition party in the city centre were met by police carrying riot shields and batons.
“Hundreds of policemen came and surrounded the headquarters, then came in and beat us and fired teargas,” said Alou Niang, a protester.
Several people were taken to hospital during the clashes.
“There were 16 injured evacuated to hospital, 10 have already been released. One policeman was injured,” said Amadou Sangho, spokesman for the Ministry of Security, adding a police vehicle was damaged and eight people were arrested.
Hospital officials declined to speak to Reuters, but one hospital employee, who asked not to be named, confirmed 14 people had minor injuries while two were more serious.
Around a dozen candidates announced their candidacy, the strongest of which is seen as opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, a former finance minister.
“We won’t let this climate of panic discourage us. We will keep on fighting for our country. We will keep on fighting so this country remains a democracy,” Cisse said after the violence.
Another candidate, Mamadou Igor Diarra, was among those hurt in the clashes.
Opposition leaders said after a meeting on Saturday they would launch a fresh wave of marches next weekend.
Rising violence across Mali cast doubt over the feasibility of elections in some parts, especially the north, where Islamist groups exploit chaos and lawlessness to use the desert region as a springboard for attacks.
Dozens of ethnic Tuareg and Fulani civilians have been killed in inter-communal violence in the north, while insurgents killed scores of UN peacekeepers and government soldiers.